Handbook on Gender and Social Policy
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Handbook on Gender and Social Policy

Edited by Sheila Shaver

Providing a state of the art overview, this comprehensive Handbook is an essential introduction to the subject of Gender and Social Policy. Bringing together original contributions and research from leading researchers it covers the theoretical perspectives of the field, the central policy terrain of gender inequalities of income, employment and care, and family policy. Examining gender and social policy at both the regional and national level, the Handbook is an excellent resource for advanced students and scholars of sociology, political science, women’s studies, policy studies as well as practitioners seeking to understand how gender shapes the contours of social policy and politics.
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Chapter 22: Social policy in the United States

Ellen Reese, Logan Marg and Julisa McCoy

Abstract

Female poverty is far higher in the USA than other wealthy democracies. In part, this is because the USA is more ‘market-based’ in its social policies. United States social policies have also been deeply shaped by socially conservative ideologies. The US welfare state is a ‘two-track’ system that reinforces both gender and racial inequalities. At the beginning of the twentieth century, welfare for single mothers was justified in maternalist terms but became increasingly contested as maternal employment grew and as more women of colour and unwed mothers gained access to welfare. Since the late 1960s, policy reform led to expansion of federal welfare-to-work programmes, which have largely tracked participants into low-wage jobs. Welfare reform policies in conjunction with child support and criminal justice policies have also sought to reinforce, through punitive means, the male-breadwinner role among poor men, who are disproportionately men of colour. This chapter then explores the role of the Christian right in shaping US social policies such as ‘abstinence only’ sex education and rollbacks of family planning programmes. We end by considering how the conjoined punitive turn in penal and welfare policies since the late 1980s has produced bans on welfare among ex-offenders and the criminalization of ‘dead beat dads’ and homeless people.

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